Lockdown ‘dread and despair’ as Tier 3 set to be ‘final nail in Blackpool’s coffin’
In any other year, you’d be able to feel the excitement in the Blackpool air.
Thousands of wide-eyed holidaymakers would be wandering its sweeping Promenade, gazing at its impressive festival of lights.
There would be music blasting from karaoke bars and amusement arcades, screams from its pier and pleasure beach, and the smells of fish’n’chips and candy floss.
Thanks to its world-famous Illuminations, Blackpool always seemed like the only place where the feel of the summer holidays carried on right into the dark nights of winter.
But today the famous kiss-me-quick town wakes up with a very different feeling – not of fun and thrills, but dread and despair.
Right in the middle of the its Illuminations season – the high point of Blackpool’s year attracting around four million visitors, which normally runs until the last week of November – the seaside resort has been plunged into darkness, in the form of a Tier 3 lockdown.
With Lancashire joining Liverpool in the severest level of coronavirus restrictions, its normally bustling pubs and bars, casinos and bingo halls will tonight be silent and shuttered.
And with outsiders banned from entering the very high alert level area except in exceptional circumstances, and from staying overnight in the area, its normally bustling Golden Mile will be eerily quiet, too.
Blackpool’s council leader Lynn Williams told the Mirror the restrictions came into place after the Government agreed to provide £30million support to businesses, of which Blackpool hopes to get £5million.
She said: “We are reluctantly agreed. We were kind of bullied into this.”
Ironically, the devastating measures come in the first ever year Blackpool had extended its Illuminations for two extra months until the start of January – precisely to help prop up businesses which have been left on a cliff edge during the pandemic.
Now, many locals who rely on the tourism trade fear they’re about to lose everything they’ve spent their lives working for.
Ann Rowley, manager of the Beach Hotel on Blackpool’s Promenade, said guests had already cancelled bookings for the half-term holiday, which is usually one of Blackpool’s busiest weeks.
She said: “It should be chockablock but it’s not, it’s dead. We’ve had a lot cancel. They’re frightened of coming. I mean we’ve just had such a bad season and for it to happen again well, we would be struggling. We really would.”
Hotelier Gill Norris says the new restrictions will have “a devastating impact, absolutely devastating”.
She said: “We had the Government’s help at the beginning of the first lockdown, but that doesn’t pay the bills for the rest of the year.”
Gill added that while pubs and bars forced to close will receive Government help, those like her who can stay open but will get hardly any bookings face ruin.
She said: “They’re closing pubs and restaurants, but we then lockdown by default, because we’ll have no visitors, but won’t get any financial compensation.”
Gill stressed the measures would “devastate not only us but a lot of the others in Blackpool as well and some of them only just started getting going”.
She added: “It’s worrying and a shame because a lot of the businesses have spent money on making sure they are Covid safe and it’s people outside that aren’t taking care.”
Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said the announcement just before lunchtime yesterday had “caused chaos” among hoteliers.
She said: “Many guests have already set off to come to Blackpool by lunchtime on a Friday – but what can they expect when they arrive?
“We’ve been been taking calls from hoteliers across the town who have questions about whether the attractions will stay open, the Illuminations and the trams. All the things visitors come for.
“Our members all want to do the right thing for their guests, but we should have been given some breathing space to plan for it.”
Kelly Hales, 49, from Corby, Northants, and Gina Clements, 58, from Ayrshire, have found themselves caught in the confusion after booking their girls’ weekend away in Blackpool in October.
Kelly said: “We only found out about the restrictions when we were on our way here. This is sh*te. We go home on Sunday and a lot of the pubs are shutting at 10pm on Friday.”
Gina added: “We would have been out drinking and enjoying ourselves all weekend but now it has been spoilt. We don’t know what we are going to do.”
Many fear that the new restrictions will be the final nail in the coffin for Blackpool, which had started to show signs of hope in recent years after decades of decline.
Unrivalled in popularity from Victorian times right through to the 1950s, the seaside town, with its three piers, tower and opulent Winter Gardens, was proclaimed “one of the wonders of the world”.
It boasted 10million visitors a year while its entertainment venues could seat more than 60,000 people each night.
But that changed in the 60s, when the working class Brits who would holiday there suddenly found cheap air travel and Spain’s sun-soaked Costas within their reach.
In more recent times the decline was even more precipitous, with visitor numbers almost halving between 1992 and 2014.
The town was no longer chosen for political party conferences and even its famous deckchairs disappeared – the council sold all 6,000 of them to a company in Cheshire.
Even so, millions still flocked to its Illuminations, regularly making Blackpool the UK’s most visited resort.
In fact, the annual 66-day light show was a way of extending the season to give struggling businesses a chance at making it through the long winter.
Blackpool’s brightly-lit, throbbing seafront was disguising a town on the brink – one of the most deprived districts in England where 26% of children are living in poverty and whose unemployed now make up one in 10 people – the highest rate in the country.
It is also one of the most densely-populated authorities in the UK, with its once booked-up hotels and B&Bs now converted into cheap bedsits, whose residents, many coming in from other parts of the country, often put an even greater strain on the town’s already stretched resources.
A rescue plan, promising £1billion in investment, had recently brought regeneration to the town, with plans for new hotels and a new Blackpool museum, giving many hope that the good times would return.
But that may have come too late for many, as those who relied on the Illuminations to cling on to their livelihoods are finally pushed over the edge.
Christopher Higgitt, the owner of Las Vegas Amusements, explains: “These next three weeks are normally Blackpool’s busiest, with first the Scots and then the English bringing their kids here for half-term.
“I don’t have to close as I am a family entertainment centre, but it is going to be hard on a lot of businesses.
“The reality is that Blackpool has limited opportunity to make money and the beginning of November is normally the end of our season before we shut down for four months.”
Nathan Oldham, 27, manager of the town’s The Galleon Bar, said Covid restrictions over the summer had already hit businesses hard.
He added: “We found out about Blackpool going into Tier 3 on the news, but I was not surprised. I was expecting it after Liverpool. It was only a matter of time.
“Shutting down at 10pm in a seasonal place like Blackpool has been difficult, and we have not been able to have live acts on. Nobody wants to shut their pubs, especially now when Scottish week is starting and the Old Firm game is on.
“It’ll be last orders at 9 tonight and everyone out by 10 and then that is us shut until the Government says. I just hope we survive until then.”